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6th Circuit: Federal Booking Photos are Public

A federal appeals court says US marshals in Detroit were on the wrong
side of the law when they tried to deny a newspaper access to booking
photos of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and police officers accused of
corruption.

But the judges in the case also say they were forced to this particular
result, and they’re not happy with their decision.

The Detroit Free Press in 2012 filed a Freedom of Information Act
request for the booking photos of Kilpatrick, his father, and 17 police
officers facing federal corruption and civil rights charges.

A federal district judge ruled with the newspaper, and the appeals
court upheld that decision based on a precedent set in an earlier case,
also involving the Free Press. But the 6th Circuit opinion says that
while the judges went with the letter of the law, they’re not sure
they’re abiding by the spirit of the exceptions in it:

“Booking photographs convey the sort of potentially embarrassing or
harmful information protected by the exemption: they capture how an
individual appeared at a particularly humiliating moment immediately
after being taken into federal custody.”

Also:

“Such images convey an “unmistakable badge of criminality” and,
therefore, provide more information to the public than a person’s mere
appearance.”

Detroit Free Press attorney Herschel Fink said this in an article in
the newspaper:

“This is a battle that the Free Press has been waging against the
Department of Justice for 20 years, and this opinion reflects that it’s
still not over. The issue will now likely go back to the full 6th
Circuit bench for yet another review.”

The decision only applies in the Sixth Circuit states of Michigan,
Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

Image credit: Kwame Federal Booking Photo

This post is a part of Michigan Public Radio Network.

The Michigan Public Radio Network is a consortium of 10 licensed public broadcasters with 31 transmitters serving nearly 900,000 listeners statewide. MPRN stations are committed to sharing resources to get news and information to public radio listeners all across Michigan.

About the Author

Rick Pluta

REPORTER / PRODUCER - MICHIGAN PUBLIC RADIO NETWORK

Rick Pluta has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.

Follow @rickpluta

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